Review: The Paradise Syndrome Remastered

So here’s the pitch: The Enterprise is drawn to a lush, idyllic Class-M planet set in the path of an asteroid the size of Earth’s Moon.  Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet and discover a primitive culture in place that closely resembles several Native American tribes from Earth. Additionally, vegetation on the planet (pine trees, orange groves, etc.) is identical to Earth’s, despite being a half a galaxy away- the odds of which, according to Spock, are "astronomical."  The party discovers an artfully designed obelisk set in the woods, evidence of an advanced species later revealed to have planted human life on the planet.  In the show’s opening minutes, we are presented with a tantalizing mystery and a major clue. Archeologically speaking, this planet may answer the question of how humans appeared on Earth.  On paper, this is one of Star Trek’s more appealing high-concepts.  Unfortunately, "The Paradise Syndrome" wanders about, indulging in silliness instead of exploring its more ambitious themes.

Picking up from the premise above, before Kirk can return to the ship to divert the asteroid from its collision course, he is separated from the landing party when he falls into a hidden door at the base of the obelisk. Inside, he is zapped by a memory-wiping ray-beam.  After Spock and McCoy conduct an unsuccessful search for their captain, Spock decides that diverting the asteroid is the more pressing matter and orders that the search for Kirk be postponed.  A scant few minutes after Spock and McCoy depart, a disoriented Kirk lumbers out of the obelisk’s base and meets an intergalactic Pocahontas, the lovely Miramanee.  Despite Kirk’s inability to finish a coherent sentence, Miramanee declares him a God (to which he doesn’t object).  She immediately takes Kirk back to the village and introduces him to the tribe.  But before pleasantries can be finished between Kirk and the locals, a small boy is brought into the hut, lifeless due to drowning.  The tribe’s medicine man, Salish, looks the boy over quickly and decides "He’s dead, Tonto."  The amnesiac Kirk proceeds to give the boy 23rd Century CPR (leg rubs included) and voila the boy comes back to life, thus cementing Kirk’s God-status (and pissing off Miramanee’s soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Salish, in the process).

Miramanee — Space Pocahontas

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise everybody is cranky.  McCoy is upset over leaving Kirk behind.  Spock is stubbornly ripping the ship apart by speeding at maximum warp towards the asteroid, and Scotty is complaining ad nauseam to his imaginary friends down in Engineering.  As Scotty predicts, Spock breaks most of the ships systems in his rash attempt to divert the asteroid.  This forces the Enterprise to slowly pace ahead of the rock on its path back to the planet– a trip taking several weeks.  Yes, it may not be apparent when viewing this episode, but "The Paradise Syndrome" takes place over the course of 50-plus days, qualifying it as the longest-spanning Original Series episode.

The Enterprise slowly keeps pace with the asteroid

All the while, on planet Navajo, "The Captain Formerly Known As Kirk" quickly establishes a new life for himself: he marries Miramanee, gets her pregnant, and assumes his role as "Kirok" (pronounced "key-rock"), God-among-men.  Contrasting Kirok’s bliss are several scenes on the Enterprise where everybody is upset to the point of overacting. Amidst the crackling/smoking chaos that is Engineering, Scotty confirms he is Scottish by bellowing: "My bairns!  My poor bairns!" (a line I gleefully repeated aloud to nobody in particular).  Meanwhile, McCoy predictably gets in a few racist digs on Spock, who’s skipping meals and sleep in order to study the obelisk’s symbols.  Spock is betting the farm that this ancient technology can be used to divert the asteroid in time.  He eventually deciphers the symbols as musical notes, by casually plucking at his Vulcan harp.

At the episode’s climax, the approaching asteroid sets off drastic climate changes, prompting the tribe to ask Kirok to do his God-thing and use the obelisk to save them all.  Kirok casually tells the nervous locals "Hey, it’s just wind!  Go to the caves, relax!"  Dissatisfied, the tribe turns violent, throwing stones at Kirok and Miramanee (and perhaps illustrating "Paradise Lost?").  Thankfully, the landing party beams down in time to scare off the angry mob.  And then comes an odd, yet vintage Star Trek moment: Spock performs a "Vulcan mind fusion" in order to heal his amnesiac commander, and concludes after a bit of overacting that Kirk is "an extremely dynamic individual."  Huh?  Back in his right mind, Kirk leads Spock into the obelisk (via a melodic, intergalactic coincidence) and they push the necessary buttons to send the asteroid off its collision course. Later, Kirk tends to Miramanee as she lay seductively in her hut (with one leg arched ever so slightly) dying from internal injuries. McCoy tries to save her, but 23rd Century medicine is powerless against 1960s television producers (who were probably reluctant to spare a pregnant Miramanee). Instead, the show ends with Kirk and Miramanee sharing a genuinely touching farewell and she dies declaring her eternal love for Kirk.

The Vulcan Mind Fusion, convenient plot device

Again, CBS-Digital delivers consistently good work.  The most significant improvement in this otherwise effects-light episode is the new version of the asteroid.  The original episode recycled shots of the Yonada life-boat/asteroid from the episode "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky."  Honestly, I had never made the connection between the two shows until reading comments by the astute readers of this site.  Well, rejoice in knowing that this killer asteroid is finally its own rock. Furthermore, the geek quotient was kicked up for me when CBS-D faithfully recreated my favorite shot from the original episode: where the camera pushes in on the asteroid, zooming past the Enterprise.  I had hoped that shot composition would survive "remastering" and it did, so major kudos to the FX team for keeping the faith.  And last but not least, the Enterprise fires her deflector, the one and only time we see this done on the Original Series, and by golly that’s a pretty, orange beam!

pretty orange beam

This episode deserves credit for its impressive production values, grand scope and intriguing premise.  Unfortunately, the show’s execution (script, acting) falls short of its potential.  The science-fiction angle has promise: the idea of an ancient alien race seeding humanoid life throughout the galaxy is a fascinating (and provocative) notion, but the mystery of "The Preservers" takes a backseat throughout the episode.  Also, dramatic themes about the stresses of deep space travel are raised but neglected. Perhaps there was not much self-analysis taking place in 1960s popular entertainment, but Kirk’s discontent is a subject worthy of serious exploration.  And what of his reaction to losing a wife and child?  In the end, this episode abandons its poignant and ambitious premise to pursue its more melodramatic side.  While it has its enjoyable moments, "The Paradise Syndrome" is frustrating to watch considering it could have been one of the signature stories of The Original Series.

Adam Cohen is the editor and mastermind of the sometimes funny The Jack Sack, a "24" (humor) site. This is his first contribution to Trek Movie Report.

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